Friday, January 21, 2011

Toxicity

Dear Readers,  

Today the Dew has a special treat for you! CJ Lyons, author of Critical Condition, which will be reviewed here at the Dew on February 13th, has graciously allowed us to share a short story with you. 

I think you'll really enjoy it! 

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TOXICITY
CJ Lyons


Dr. Gina Freeman was used to getting what she wanted. A tall black woman—over six feet tall in the Jimmy Choo stilettos the police had confiscated—she had the power to quiet rambling drunks, disarm quarrelsome old men, and distract whining college boys as she popped their dislocated joints back into socket.

Usually. Right now these talents were useless. Might have had something to do with her being handcuffed like a common criminal.

"Do you know who my father is?" she demanded of the desk sergeant seated behind the bullet-proof lobby window of Pittsburgh's Zone Five Station House.
He didn't pause in his typing. They'd had this conversation twice already. "Lady, I keep telling you, what I need is proof of who you are. I really don't give a crap who your old man is."

"He's Moses Freeman. The lawyer. The very famous lawyer who is having dinner at Judge Sandler's house as we speak."

"Good on them. Hope they're having steak. Boy, what I wouldn't do for a nice steak. Wife's got me on this diet, all tofu and couscous and crap." He paused, gazing at his computer screen with a wistful expression. "Hell, I'd settle for a chipped-chopped ham sandwich. With a side of fries from The O."

Gina rattled the handcuffs, re-focusing him on the immediate problem. If this was her tax dollars at work, she was not impressed. The Zone Five station house was bleak—not totally surprising, given its location in East Liberty, not the nicest Pittsburgh neighborhood—but expecting her to sit on a hard wooden slab of a bench with her wrist shackled to a steel ring was absurd. 

"I haven't done anything wrong," she insisted for the twenty-third time.

"Tell that to Jansen. His foot is swollen bigger than an elephant's nuts. And his nuts are swollen bigger than—"

"He shouldn't have grabbed me from behind like that. How was I to know he was a police officer? This is all a total misunderstanding. If you'd just remove these handcuffs and let me call my father--"

"Moses Freeman. Yeah, yeah, you said." He continued his hunt and peck across the computer keyboard. "Told ya, no phone calls until we get you processed."

"I don't need processed. I didn't do anything wrong."

"Those restaurant owners would disagree. Jansen said the bill you tried to run out on was over $500. With damages and all, that might bump things up to a felony. Add to it resisting arrest, assaulting an officer, drunk and disorderly…." He clucked his tongue and shook his head. "Glad you're not my daughter, that's all I can say."

"I told you. My purse was stolen. Not my fault." 

"Lost your purse, lost your date, lost your temper. Guess nothing's your fault is it?"

Gina decided to ignore the last comment. It had been her first date with Pierre—if that was even his real name. He'd seemed decent enough when they met at the gym earlier today, but obviously, once again her judgment in men was lacking. It galled her to think of him enjoying the expensive meal at the trendiest restaurant in Shadyside, swilling her favorite Chateau Neuf de Pape, and then driving off behind the wheel of her BMW.

She yanked on the handcuff. Designed to immobilize men much larger than her, it didn't budge. Anger crackled through her—at the cops, at Pierre, mostly at herself. 

The spaghetti straps of her Roberto Cavalli cocktail dress drifted down over her arms, but she had more than enough of a bust to hold the dress up. Hmmm, unless letting it slip down might convince the sergeant to uncuff her?
Before she could put her plan into action, the doors opened and a woman around Gina's age entered, a drift of snow arriving with her. She had blonde hair, was made up for a casual date—hair done and sprayed into place against the March wind, nice sweater and jeans, makeup not over done, and just a whiff of perfume. Something cheap that made Gina's nose itch.

"Are you who I talk to?" she asked, approaching the desk sergeant with a wobbly gait, balancing on the kitten heels of black leather boots. Up close, Gina could see that her upper lip was bloody and swollen, making her lisp the tiniest bit.

"Lady, I'm who everyone talks to," he said with a pointed glare at Gina. "What can we do for you?"

"I think somebody is trying to kill me."

"Name?" the sergeant said, sounding bored and unimpressed by the girl's statement, holding the phone to his ear with one hand and drinking his coffee with the other. He hadn't offered Gina any. And he didn't look cold at all—probably had a space heater back there behind the glass, more of her tax dollars going to waste.

"Melissa Schultz." The girl opened her purse, grabbed a wallet and fumbled her driver's license through the slot in the window for the sergeant to examine. She tugged at the collar of her sweater. "It's hot in here."

Gina was freezing—but she had no coat, no hose, no shoes, only her wisp of a dress. The sergeant took another phone call and Melissa paced the small foyer with faltering steps. Finally she came to a stop, sinking onto the bench beside Gina. 

Melissa closed her eyes, revealing blue glitter eye shadow and clumps of black mascara. Beads of sweat blossomed on her forehead. "I don't feel so good. I think I'm gonna be sick."

"Nerves. Put your head between your knees, see if that helps." Gina massaged Melissa's neck as she leaned forward. "Hey buddy, where's the ladies room?"
The cop pointed his pen across the lobby. 

"Want to uncuff me so I can help her there? Or would you rather she puke all over your floor?" He hesitated and she shot him her best glare. "C'mon. I'm a doctor, she's sick."

Instead of coming to her aid, the sergeant picked up the phone again. Melissa made a choking sound and raised her head. 
"Hard to breathe," she gasped.

The swelling around her lip had progressed dramatically, now her entire face was mottled and swollen. 

"Hell." Gina pushed Melissa back up to a sitting position, keeping her head elevated and propping her up against the wall behind them. The girl's breathing was noisy, whistling with every inhalation. "Hell, hell, hell. Melissa, are you allergic to anything?"

Melissa's eyes were closed down to small slits and she couldn't talk, but she managed to nod her head and flail an arm in the direction of her purse that now lay on the floor between them.

"Epi-pen?" Gina asked, straining to reach the purse with her uncuffed hand. Impossible. She hooked a bare foot through the strap and pulled it closer then scooped it up onto her lap. "Please tell me you have an Epi-pen here somewhere."

The sergeant lunged forward, pounding on the glass wall between them. Gina ignored him, awkwardly unlatching the purse and dumping its contents on her lap. Wallet, lipstick, tampons, breath-mints, cell phone, wads of tissue, keys, pens, matchbook from a bar—ah hah! Her fingers closed on the grey tube that looked like a marking pen. The label read: use in case of anaphylaxis.
She pulled the cap off with her teeth and reached across her body to jab it into Melissa's thigh.

"Stop that!" the sergeant yelled just as the inside door opened and a man wearing a navy blue suit rushed out.

"What's going on here?" the man asked, ripping the Epi-pen from Gina's hand.
Melissa's body arched as the epinephrine—the same chemical as the body's own adrenaline—flooded her system. 

"Let me out of these things," Gina demanded, straining to pull the handcuffs as she tried to keep Melissa upright. "She's going into shock."

"And who the hell are you?"

"Dr. Gina Freeman, I'm an ER resident over at Angels of Mercy."
"Hopkins said you were some kind of lawyer's daughter."

"Hopkins is a jackass, trying to teach me a lesson 'cause I embarrassed one of your cops. I really am a doctor."

The man, obviously a detective from his plain clothes and the gold shield on his belt, eyed the sergeant who shrank back. 

"Call an ambulance," he ordered. Then he knelt beside Melissa, examining the Epi-pen. "Are you feeling better, Miss?"

Melissa barely had the energy to shake her head. She clutched at Gina's hand in panic. 

"Peanuts." Her voice trailed off.

"Melissa did you eat some peanuts?" Gina asked. "You're allergic to peanuts, right?"
"Not-not me. Date. Must've--" Her breath whistled out her, the ominous sound of an airway being choked off.

The detective—who would have never have attracted Gina's attention under any other circumstances, he was too ordinary with brown hair and large brown eyes, just another Irish cop—glanced at Gina.

He didn't waste time with words, instead immediately released her from the handcuffs. "What do you need?"

"Any first aid kit you got—preferably one with drugs." Drugs including more epinephrine and other medications to combat the allergic reaction before Melissa's airway totally closed off. "How long for the ambulance?"
The sergeant was still on the phone. "Ten minutes." He glanced at the detective. "I got Jansen looking for a first aid kit, Boyle."

Boyle nodded, wadding up his suit coat to place under Melissa's head, keeping his hands there to support her airway. Not a total idiot, Gina noted with approval. She unbuttoned Melissa's sweater, this was no time for modesty, and found hives blossoming across the girl's chest.

"Her respirations are slowing," Gina noted, wishing to hell she was anywhere else—like the well-equipped Angels of Mercy ER where she'd have everything she needed to treat Melissa. It was so aggravating, knowing what needed done and sitting here, helpless. 

"That's not good is it?" Boyle rocked back on his heels, obviously as frustrated as she was. "What can I do?"

Melissa gagged, her entire body arching as she vomited. Then she slid to the floor, unconscious. To his credit, Boyle didn't waste time dealing with the smelly stomach contents spewed onto his lap. Instead he immediately flipped Melissa over before she could aspirate any of the nasty fluid.

Gina knelt on the linoleum, hiking up her short skirt so she could bend forward and open Melissa's airway. "She stopped breathing."

She tired mouth to mouth, her own stomach rebelling at the acrid smell and foul taste. She couldn't force any air in, Melissa's tongue and throat had swollen too much. Gina sat back up. "I need to cric her."

Boyle handed her a handkerchief—what kind of guy carried handkerchiefs these days, and a clean one to boot?—and she wiped her mouth clean.
"What do you need?"

"An operating room and bronchoscope would be nice, an ENT surgeon better." She dug her fingernails into her palms, trying to still her rattled nerves. "Get me a knife. Anything sharp. And a plastic tube."

"A straw?"

She shook her head, her braids rattling free of their elaborate coiffeur. "Too flimsy. Something about that size around but stronger."

He dug a knife out of his pants pocket—a single bladed Emerson that looked wicked sharp—and handed it to her. 

"How about this?" he asked, rummaging through the debris from Melissa's purse and coming up with a tampon. He stripped it free of its paper wrapping and unearthed the slim plastic tube that was tapered at one end.
"Perfect." She straddled Melissa, trying to feel through the swelling that had consumed the girl's neck. She had to find the small plateau of tissue below the thyroid cartilage. But all she felt was mushy, fluid-filled tissue. 

Panic surged through Gina, throttling her own breath. Damnit, she couldn't just blindly slice into this woman's neck with no landmarks to guide her. That might be how they did it on TV but this was real life with a real person's life in her hands—hands that trembled uncon
trollably. Oh, this was not going to go well.
Boyle left her side for a moment, running to the restroom and returning with a bundle of paper towels, some wet, some dry. Melissa still had a pulse but she was turning an alarming shade of purple, highlighting the hives that had devoured her pretty features, turning her into something from a B-rated zombie movie.

"George Ramirez on crack," Boyle murmured as he knelt across from Gina.
She glanced at him, it was spooky the way he echoed her own thoughts and anticipated her needs. Her father always scoffed at cops, called them thugs licensed to kill, and her own experiences tonight seemed to reinforce that stereotype—until Boyle came along. 

She aimed the knife as best she could. Only one chance to get this right. Her hand still shook. Boyle laid his hand over hers and she felt calmer. 
"You ever do this before?" he asked.
Go HERE for the Full Story!
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About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about. In addition to being an award-winning medical suspense author, CJ is a nationally known presenter and keynote speaker.

Her award-winning, critically acclaimed Angels of Mercy series (LIFELINES, WARNING SIGNS, URGENT CARE and CRITICAL CONDITION) is available now. Her newest project is as co-author of a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. You can learn more at http://www.cjlyons.net and for free reads, "Like" her at http://www.facebook.com/CJLyonsBestsellingThrillerAuthor

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